Poor Richard's Almanack: The Brilliance of Ben Franklin

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Poor Richard's Almanack was a famous creation of America's Renaissance Man, Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin published the Almanack once a year from 1732 to 1758. The first issue was labelled January 1733 but was published the month before. Sources differ on the exact day of publication: Some sources say December 19; other sources say December 28.

Almanacs at this time were very important to many people in that they provided a yearlong calendar, listing dates and days of the week, and, perhaps most importantly, information on times for sunrise and sunset and for phases and tides of the Moon. Farmers would have found this information crucial.

Almanacs also generally included schedules for public meetings and social events and tips for farming and medicine.

Poor Richard's Almanack contained the usual fare for such almanacs, such as astronomical and astrological information, weather predictions, a calendar, math exercises, and poems and sayings. It was these sayings for which Poor Richard's Almanack is remembered most.

Some well-known examples are these:

  • "One today is worth two tomorrows."
  • "Diligence is the mother of good luck."
  • "He that speaks much is mistaken."
  • "Beware of little expenses: a small leak will sink a great ship."
  • "It is better to give many injuries than to give one."
  • "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

Franklin, in his autobiography, had this to say about the Almanack:

I consider’d it as a proper Vehicle for conveying Instruction among the common People, who bought scarcely any other Books.

The name in the title of the Almanack referred to the author, who was identified as Richard Saunders, a pseudonym that Franklin used. "Saunders," in the pages of the almanac, also referred to his wife, Bridget.

Franklin did not invent the name Richard Saunders but instead took inspiration for it from a 17th-Century British almanac. Richard Saunder (no "s" on the end) published Apollo Anglicanus: The English Apollo, which contained highly academic material.

Also an inspiration, some sources say, was Franklin's brother James. "Poor Robin" was the name of a character in James Franklin's Rhode Island Almanack.

Franklin sold a great many copies of Poor Richard's Almanack every year. When his brother James died in 1735, Ben Franklin sent 500 copies of that year's almanac to James's widow, Ann, so that she could sell them herself to make money.

Less well-known about Poor Richard's Almanack is that contained annual updates in the lives of various "people," in the form of a serial. The idea was to introduce various episodes in the lives of people, real or fictional, and make the storyline so compelling that finding out what happened next in the lives of those people would compel Franklin's readers to buy the Almanack again the following year.

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